Tonight, Monday, October 20, the Houston Texans managed to give up 24 points to their opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, within a three minute span. ESPN noted how no team in the NFL has done this since 2002 – a span covering more than 3000 games.
But what’s even more interesting is that the Texans gave up 21 points in just over half this time. who wound up losing 30-23, and only then by closing a late 14 point score gap with a minute and a half left to play and no timeouts, accomplished something even more impressive. They
This is hard to fathom, but here’s how it happened.
Houston, who ultimately wound up losing 30-23 after being down 30-16 with only a minute and a half left to play, was originally outplaying Pittsburgh behind the strong running of Arian Foster. Foster himself is second in the league in rushing. (Although he is well behind league leader DeMarco Murray of the Cowboys, who yesterday became the first player ever to have a 100 or more yards rushing in each of the first 7 games of the season, in Dallas’ dominating 31-21 victory over the struggling division foe New York Giants.)
And throughout most of the first half, Houston was shutting out the Steelers, and led, 13-0. Then with 5:42 left to go, Pittsburgh faced a 3rd and 10 from their own 14 yard line.
It looked like Houston was going to get the ball back again, and if they could just put together a nice lazy field goal drive to burn off the clock, in a critical game for both teams to stay reasonably within contention nearing the halfway mark, could easily go into the locker room,up 16-0.
That’s not exactly what happened.
In sort of the same way that the Antarctic is “not exactly” a warm place to hang out.
Houston, instead, went into their locker room, at halftime, trailing. 24 to 13.
That’s right. Just over five and a half minutes were left in the half, and the Steelers had the ball on their own 14 yard line. And faced 3rd 10, and ten. Had zero points, and yet were shortly to go from zero to 24.
Rothlisberger (We’ll call him “Ben”) hit Le’Veon Bell (who is third in the NFL in rushing behind Texan Foster, and the Cowboys DeMarco Murray),on a short route over the middle, and the play didn’t end until Bell went out of bounds 43 yards later at the Texans 43 yard line.
Note to Texans: If you’re going to play soft on a deep 3rd and 10 to make sure you don’t give up the 1st down, cover the middle of the field.
Pitt then moved down to the 26 yard line, where Shaun Suisham hit on a 44 yard field goal try. Houston 13, Pittsburgh 3. 3:08 remained in the half.
No time to panic yet in Houston, as now they could march, chew up a little clock, and go into half time with that nice 13 – 3 lead; maybe a little bit more.
Arian Foster gained a couple of yards, then QB Ryan Fitzpatrick lost a yard on a sack, and, voila, the two minute warning gong was sounded. (Note to anyone who was looking for research on Steel manufacturing in Texas, or taking one time foreign policy savant and Alaska leader Sarah Palin too literally, trying to find where they could buy, or at least how to make, a good rothlis burger, there is no gong sounded for the two minute warning. Balloons come out instead.)
So, here we are: 13-3 Houston, two minutes to go in the half, and the Texans have the ball.
3rd and 9. Here, a pass is reasonable. From a detailed game tape analysis of nearly every NFL game played in the past decade plus, it seems pretty obvious that teams don’t give nearly enough weight to the unique value of retaining the last real (meaning a reasonable chance at a score, and ideally a touchdown) possession of the half. It is the only time in the game, before it’s end (apart from a rare Safety) where the scoring team doesn’t have to give possession – which is worth a lot in football – back to the other team. Or does so with insignificant time left, and thus a greatly reduced value.
Still, what is any team going to do here? Houston does pass, as almost any team would on 3rd and 9 except when simply running out the game. They want to drive and score. And, special end of half considerations or not, they still don’t want to give the ball to their opponent, right?
Of course. Although in the next sixty-two seconds of play, Houston is going to give the ball to Pittsburgh a total of 3 times. With bad consequences for the Texans each time.
The 3rd and 9 pass attempt to DeAndre Hopkins goes incomplete, the Texans punt, and the Steelers take over on their own 37 yard line. 1:46 remains in the half. In the next minute and a half (1:32 to be precise), Pittsburgh is going to score more points than 12 active NFL teams scored yesterday in a full 60 minutes of football each. (And 40 of those 92 seconds – almost half – were taken up by just one 6 yard play where, with only 1 timeout left, Pittsburgh questionably ran a bit too much clock.)
Once again a short pass to Bell goes fairly long – this time for 28 yards, as it looked like the Texans defense was playing a little “soft” because there wasn’t much time left, which rarely makes sense to do in football unless there really isn’t much time but for a couple of plays.
The very next play, Ben hits Martavis Bryant.(If you name your kid something that sounds half made up, but semi elegant and is comprised of multiple syllables, studies show there is a 38% greater chance of them becoming an NFL player than if you give them a one or two syllable name.) good for a 35 yard touchdown.
Wow, that was quick. 13 – 10 Houston.
At least Pittsburgh scored so quickly that the Texans have a chance to add something of their own. Which they did: to the week’s top team meltdown reels.
With 1:37 left Pittsburgh kicks off. Danieal Manning takes the kickoff and tries to return it.
He fumbles it. Just outside of the end zone.
So that’s how it happened, you are probably reasonably thinking. Or at least some of it, right?
Nope. The Texans recovered the ball.
So, to rehash, the Texans, immediately after punting away the ball, managed to give up a remarkable 21 points to their opponent in a minute and a half, and still somehow also even manged to fumble the ball during that stint and recover it themselves.
1st and 10 from their own 5; Fitzpatrick to Foster for a yard.
Sensing blood, Pittsburgh calls their second timeout of the half, hoping to stop Houston deep and get the ball in great field position. But it got better than that. A lot better.
Fitzpatrick hands off to Foster, who fumbles the ball. This time, as a replay review that reversed the original call on the field concluded, the Steelers recover the ball. Wherein, from the 3 yard line, Ben tosses the ball to Antonio Brown. Who is a great receiver, and Ben, besides being Ben, is, after all the QB. So this is perfectly natural.
But here, Brown is behind Ben, and well upfield from him. So the toss is back toward the Steeler’s own end zone.
It is, of course, an underhanded toss, and Brown takes the ball at the 11 yard line, 8 yards behind; and running straight toward the right sideline, spins 270 degrees up, and then down, field, before throwing a pass toward the end zone. (Good thing after all that spinning it went in the right direction. Brown must have taken some spinning classes.) Thus the spin is counter clockwise, with the left arm on the outside, the right arm on the inside. This makes a 270 degree spin followed by an accurate throw in what becomes the opposite direction from where that side of the body is moving, and thus away from the direction the arm and shoulder are naturally traveling in, very difficult.
Unless you’re left handed. Which Brown is. And thus, he throws a nice pass to Lance Moore, who catches it for another Steeler touchdown. Pittsburgh 17-13. At this point, if this game were being played in Houston, half the jaws in the stadium would have been dropped.
Without even fathoming that there was more to come.
Once again, courtesy of the quick (one play) score, the Texans have a little time to muster a drive, at least for a field goal.
Pittsburgh kicks off. Houston starts off from it’s own 23 yard line, and, collectively, the team takes a long, slow, relaxing breath, before deeply breathing in, standing tall, inhaling low first and then up to the chest and expanding, drawing in energy to terminate this sudden spate of poor play, and pull it together.
I’m kidding. I made that up. But if Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has for a very long time been a very good quarterback in the NFL for a backup (unfortunately he is a starter), tried it given that most of the advanced mind body focus medicine in this country emanates out of his alma mater -Harvard – (or related to it), it didn’t work.
On the first play after Suisham’s kickoff, the Texans lined up from their 20 with 1:03 remaining, and Fitzpatrick throws a completion. To Brett Keisel, who plays for the Steelers; and who, as a defensive end, is not that used to getting interceptions.
But the ball came to him from downfield, as it’s trajectory was reversed nearly 180 degrees after bouncing off of Steeler Linebacker Lawrence Timmons – appearing even to bounce of off Timmon’s helmet – after, apparently, being deflected at the line of scrimmage.
Keisel may be a defensive end, but he can run with a football. And he advanced it 16 yards to the 8 yard line. Where, with :58 remaining, Pittsburgh took over again.
The Steelers then – again questionably – ran 40 seconds off of the play clock on a short pass to Antonio Brown. It was questionable because with only 1 timeout, a running play that came up short on the ensuing play might cause time to expire, or force Pittsburgh to use a timeout, and thus limit then to only a pass attempt on 3rd down.
It didn’t guarantee it, but with only 18 seconds now remaining after a 6 yard gain by Brown up to the 2, it kind of signaled pass because of the time and timeout situation. (If they do call a run and then burn their last timeout, they will have about 13 seconds left, and not enough time to try a 3rd down run and then either go for it or kick a field goal on 4th down, and also, though it’s usually easy to avoid in such situations, wouldn’t be able to stop the clock in case there is a sack on the 3rd down pass try, thus blowing a fantastic scoring opportunity from the 2 yard line.)
It didn’t matter. The pass to Bell was good. Touchdown. 24-17, Pittsburgh. 14 seconds remained, and after the ensuing kickoff, Fitzpatrick knelt to end the half.
The Texans had a different coach last year. (Gary Kubiak, now the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens.) And did play a lot of close games.
Still, this was a culture that before the 2013 season started was legitimately considered a strong Super Bowl contender, and who then lost 14 straight to finish at 2-14 last year, and earn the number one spot. In the draft.
Given that recent past, and this late first half fiasco on live Monday Night TV, in a key game against a perennially strong football team (that Houston was probably better than – at least before the game) it was imperative that this team both show, and develop, some character and come out focused as a laser beam, and, proverbially, unwilling to take no for an answer.
Short story. They didn’t. They got outplayed in the second half, and, while they scored a touchdown very late to close the gap to the final score of 30-23, they trailed by 14 points very late in the contest.
Perhaps it’s time for super start JJ Watt, who is a monster on the field and does seem to play with extra heart, at this point to stop doing a league/verizon promotion commercial so corny that the last time it played on the big screen at the local corner pub, a herd of hungry escaped feedlot cattle broke down the front door and started chewing at the screen.
Sure, that was a poor analogy, but it’s practically a literary Michelangelo next to, “Agh, Helen,” this commercial: